According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50 million people in the United States — one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 — are infected with the HSV-2 virus that causes genital herpes, but most people don’t even know they have it. Some people never experience any symptoms, and others might have occasional outbreaks that become less frequent over time. But once you have the virus, it never goes away.
You can get herpes from having sex one time with someone who has the disease, even if the other person doesn’t have any symptoms or open sores from herpes. The disease is usually passed through fluids on the genitals or the mouth. Using a condom helps prevent infection, but it’s not guaranteed protection.
Do I Have Herpes?
When you become infected with herpes and you do experience symptoms, they usually occur from two to 14 days after infection. The first outbreak of genital herpes is usually the worst. Symptoms include painful sores around the genitals that last a few days; and fever, headache and muscle aches that might last for weeks.
Risks if you Have Herpes
Genital herpes alone can’t kill you, but it makes you much more susceptible to the HIV virus. The likelihood that you will get HIV if you have sex with someone who’s HIV positive with a detectable viral load is much greater if you have genital herpes. While herpes can be fatal to an unborn baby, it’s very rare for a pregnant woman to pass the virus to her unborn baby, and doctors can prevent infection with medication and a C-section.
Herpes has been around since the time of the ancient Romans, but there is no vaccine for herpes and no cure. Recent progress provides hope that a herpes vaccine might be on the horizon, but that doesn’t help those who are already infected with the disease.
While there are drugs that might help relieve some of the symptoms during an outbreak, what hurts the most for many people with herpes is the embarrassment that comes from having the disease. Some people with herpes have a self-imposed isolation because they don’t want to infect others with the disease. Others lose potential partners as soon as they tell the other person they have herpes. Fortunately, there are support groups and even online dating services that cater to people with sexually-transmitted diseases, including herpes.
Public Disclosure of Herpes Test Results
There’s only one way to tell for sure whether you have herpes, and that’s to get a herpes test. If you have visible symptoms, your doctor might want to inspect your genital area and swab some of the sores to send them a lab. Or, he might take blood or send you to a lab for a blood sample that can be tested to determine if you have the virus. In all cases, if you test positive for herpes, your name and other personal information will be sent to the state health department notifying the government that you have the disease, and someone from the health department might contact you to discuss how to notify your recent sexual partners.
How to Get an Anonymous Herpes Test
There’s a huge social stigma associated with herpes. Not wanting your name disclosed if you test positive for the disease is not a good reason to avoid getting tested. You can have a completely anonymous herpes test if you follow the instructions in our free guide to anonymous herpes testing. If you have the disease, you can speak with doctors and counselors to discuss the best course of action for you to take.